BY PAUL LEIGHTON STAFF WRITER
The Salem News
---- — SALEM — A Salem board has ruled that a mental health clinic on Mason Street cannot continue to run as a 24-hour-a-day operation.
The Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously last week to uphold a cease-and-desist order issued by the city’s building inspector to Northeast Behavioral Health Corp., which operates the clinic at 41 Mason St.
Building Inspector Tom St. Pierre ordered the clinic to close by 6 p.m. each day after a neighbor complained that it is violating city zoning laws by staying open all night.
Mason Street resident Joseph White, the neighbor who complained, called the Zoning Board’s ruling “a great decision for us.”
“We’ve been dealing with a lot of problems with the facility,” White said. “It’s been getting progressively worse.”
The clinic, called the Community Crisis Stabilization Program, provides emergency psychiatric services for adults 18 and over, including six beds for overnight stays that average three to five days. It has been operating out of the Mason Street site since 2007.
Marshall Handly, a lawyer representing Northeast Behavioral Health, said the organization plans to appeal the Zoning Board’s decision. Handly said the clinic is exempt from restrictions regarding hours of operation under the Dover Amendment, a state law that limits the effect of local zoning regulations on nonprofit institutions.
Handly said the clinic serves a “critical” purpose and should be allowed to operate 24 hours per day. It’s where police bring people who are having mental health or substance abuse problems but do not need to be institutionalized, he said.
“They need to have their behaviors identified and corrected or they could head into a place where they become a community problem,” Handly said.
St. Pierre said the clinic will be allowed to stay open around the clock until a potential appeal is resolved.
St. Pierre issued his cease-and-desist order on Aug. 1, citing a 2003 ruling by the Zoning Board when it granted a variance to allow for an expansion of 41 Mason St., a former tannery, for commercial and light industrial businesses. As one of the conditions of the variance, the board limited the hours of operation in the building to between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The clinic moved into the building in 2007. White, who lives at 27 Mason St., said he has complained to the city in the past about the clinic, to no effect.
“We finally got fed up with it,” he said.
White said he is also in a legal dispute with the building’s owner, Stephen Haley, about flooding problems that White said are caused by a wall that Haley erected. White put a large plywood sign in his backyard facing the clinic that says, “Steve Haley Ruined Our Family Home.”
Haley did not return a call seeking comment.
White said he and his family are constantly bothered by police, fire and ambulance vehicles going to the clinic at all hours of the night. He submitted a list of more than 250 Salem Police Department log items for incidents at the clinic since 2007.
Handly said many of those calls are for routine matters, such as a police cruiser accompanying an ambulance, and are not reflective of an ongoing problem.
Handly said many neighbors at the Zoning Board meeting complained about parking problems in the area. He said Northeast Behavioral Health is willing to talk about parking solutions, but the hours of operation should not be limited.
He said the clinic “is interested in being a good neighbor.”
Northeast Behavioral Health is a private, nonprofit human services agency with several locations throughout the North Shore, Cape Ann and Merrimack Valley. It is part of Northeast Health System, the parent company of Beverly Hospital.
Northeast has 20 days to file a court appeal of the Zoning Board’s decision.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.